Pop Culture Advent Calendar, Day 4: Skam
Inspired by NPR, every day (gulp) from December 1st to 24th, I will be highlighting
a pop culture moment from this year that I loved. Today I talk about one of my favourite scenes from one of my favourite shows, Skam
Skam is a mega hit Norwegian teen show with four seasons, that ran from 2015 to 1017. Every season had a different main character from the same group of friends. To date, it has seven different remakes – Skam Italia, Skam Netherlands, Skam France, Druck (Germany), Skam Espana, WTFock (Belgium) and Skam Austin (USA), with more in the works. Here’s a cheatsheet on it.
Skam means shame in Norwegian. In one of my favourite Ted Talks, Brene Brown that shame thrives in secrecy, in small dark spaces, like algae. (check this). It can’t operate without it.
Skam’s thesis is that community, and sharing yourself, all of yourself, is what one needs to flourish and find themselves. It’s a slight balm to many coming of age movies’ mass interpretation of teenagers, as all too happy bystanders who are more than happy to laugh at someone’s pain when something horrible has been spray painted on a locker or a private photo has been shared (I know kids and teens and adults can be incredibly unkind, but it’s hard to buy that everyone is a happy witness to cruelty. Not all L’s land in the same way, you know?). Skam proposes that one cannot find themselves without their, whether they are born into it or they choose it for themselves.
Shame underlines almost every single character arc on Skam. From Eva’s insecurity and loneliness and paranoia that her new friends will find out why her old friends hate her in season 1, to Noora’s deep discomfort at her falling for resident fuckboy William, when she is the resident fuckboy slayer and a fierce (and also very white, but more on that for another time) feminist, in season 2. Then there’s Isak, whose struggle with his sexuality, self-acceptance and his incredibly tender love story with Even launched Skam into the international pop culture stratosphere, and into many hearts around the world, in season 3.
And Sana, the only main character of colour, a teenage Moroccan Muslim girl who dealt with isolation, exclusion, and the rocky path not feeling quite enough for both cultures leads her down, in the final season.
Skam’s strongest moments of emotional realism and connection are often small, but dense, packed with character revelations both spoken and unspoken. Skam’s switching up of perspectives season to season means that as a viewer, you are immersed in the character’s interior life. So when they are broken, confused, sad, isolated and ashamed, and another character lets them know, in so many words, that they are seen and understood, the relief is palatable, for the character and the viewer. It happens in Isak’s coming out scene and when Sana finally lets her guard down with her friends.
In season 2 episode x 4, titled I Knew There Was Something Strange about her, the main girl squad visit a cabin and scary hijinks ensue, in what is Skam’s wry and funny nod to a bottle episode, a sort of Halloween special (although it aired and was set at Easter time). In the middle of the hilarity, Noora takes Vilde aside to help her make tortillas. Vilde has been eating less and less, and Noora has quietly become more and more concerned. What unfolds is a tender and heartbreaking scene, where Noora takes Vilde through the ingredients of a tortilla, and how they’re all good for her. Like potatoes and the energy their starch gives you, and how eggs make you strong. It’s so wonderful and gentle, and it’s just generally a brilliant blueprint for eating disorder recovery. So good, in fact, that it makes one wonder at Noora’s past with food, and what has circumstances have occurred in her life that bestowed this knowledge on her.
You don’t have to wonder for long. Later on in the season, Noora is reverberating from a horrific encounter by her boyfriend’s brother, and she is not sure whether she was assaulted by him. In her distress, she resorts to not eating, and Vilde, concerned, comes over with tortilla, caringly telling Noora all the good things the ingredients can give her, until they’re both smiling again, and they eat.
It’s a scene that has had a profound affect on me. It shows how kindness can be repaid, and people care for you more than you think, and that you don’t have to suffer alone. It’s a wonderful rendering of a cyclical scene, and shows character development of both Noora and Vilde. Noora, who is fiercely independent, the self-appointed ‘mother of the group’ and her friend’s moral arbiter, who keeps so many parts of her a secret, accepts that she doesn’t have to be alone. That, in revealing herself a little earlier in the season, and her display of kindness and vulnerability, has stayed with Vilde.
I could write 10,000 words and change on Vilde, but in a nutshell, it shows that she is eating again, and that, although she is frequently infantislised by her friends (and a lot of the time, for good reason), but time and time again, she is more observant, astute, discerning and stronger than her friends give her credit for, especially Noora. This scene is about nourishment, both physical and mental, and how opening ourselves up to people can get us this nourishment. It is such a strong portrayal of eating disorders. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy, so the fact that Noora and Vilde see each other more deeply because of this mutual struggle, and try and take steps towards recovery (Vilde) or keep on that path (Noora) makes it all the more heartening and heartbreaking at the same time. Skam is a show that distils its main thesis into beautiful, succinct and intimate scenes, and this scene is, in my not very humble opinion, one of its best examples.